What Adam Driver was like before the fame

Despite starring in the hit HBO series Girls, Adam Driver was a relatively unknown actor until landing the villainous role of Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In Driver's defense, he preferred working in theater and smaller independent films, but not even the Juilliard-trained actor could resist the urge to be in Star Wars and essentially become a new generation's version of Darth Vader. How do you say no to that?

But Driver's rise to fame wasn't exactly planned. And if it weren't for a faulty mountain bike, the young actor's life could've gone a completely different way. He'd just be another small town kid with a penchant for trouble. Instead, Driver had to find another outlet for his passion and intensity, and not even he knew how far it would take him from his rough and tumble days in Indiana.

He was a pyromaniac dumpster diver in high school

When Driver was 7, his parents divorced. He moved with his mother to her hometown of Mishawaka, Indiana, and they lived with his grandparents until she eventually got remarried to a Baptist preacher. In an interview with WWD, Driver described the residents of the town as "really great," but he wasn't afraid to be candid about the town's prospects.

"There's not really anything to do," he said. "People like to cruise in front of Taco Bell. Tradewinds is the restaurant I used to go to all the time. They would have the 'panquake,' which is all-you-can-eat pancakes."

With not a lot going on, a teenaged Driver and his friends found ways to entertain themselves, which included starting fires and questionable snacks.

"We would climb radio towers, set things on fire. We tried to set a tire on fire. That was really hard. There's a place behind Kroger where we would dumpster-dive for potato chips. One dumpster, there was a chip factory behind it, and they used to throw out all their old potato chips."

But, soon, Driver watched a certain Brad Pitt movie that gave him an idea.

He started a real life fight club

When lighting fires and dumpster-diving for chips got old, Driver decided to start a fight club, just like in the movie.

"They had a big grassy field behind f*ckin' Celebrations Unlimited," Driver told Rolling Stone. "an event space that people rent out to get married or whatever, and we would go out there in the middle of the night and beat the sh*t out of our neighbors."

But don't worry, there were rules in place. Sort of.

"I think we probably came up with some rules." he told WWD. "No hitting in the balls, a good rule. There was a guy that rode by on a bike one time. He said, 'What are you guys doing?' So I fought him."

Okay, maybe the rules weren't the best. Fortunately, Driver grew out of his fight club phase, and he set his eyes on trying to get the heck out of his parent's house.

His relationship with his parents wasn't the best

During his senior year, Driver decided to give acting a real shot after performing in a few high school productions. Instead of applying for college, he auditioned for the Juilliard School in Chicago, but was turned down. With nowhere to go after graduating, his parents made him pay rent to live in a back room of their house.

"They made me buy my own refrigerator and microwave, and gave me a key so I could come through the back," he told WWD. "I could come through the front door, but I had to knock."

According to Driver, things were tense between him and his parents, and he spent most of his time working three jobs or sitting at McDonald's. In fact, things got so bad, that Driver told Rolling Stone that he never told his parents when he was cast in Girls. "It's just hard to keep in contact," he said. "We have very different lives."

Eventually, Driver had enough.

He lasted one week in California

"I didn't have anything," Driver told WWD. "I had my girlfriend. And then I'm like, 'F*ck it.' I heard all the stories of actors going to L.A. with no money and just doing it."

According to Esquire, Driver loaded up his Lincoln town car with the fridge and microwave his parents made him buy. He also made a big scene about leaving, including telling his girlfriend they would "figure out a way," but his big escape from Indiana wouldn't last very long.

While passing through Texas, Driver's car broke down, and the cost of repairs nearly left him broke. He eventually made it to Santa Monica only to get ripped off by a scam agency. "That one where you give them $500 and they find you an apartment?" he told Esquire. "Yeah, that didn't work out." After failing to find acting work, Driver used whatever money he had left for gas and drove home. He was gone for only a week.

"I moved my refrigerator right back to where it was. I called my girlfriend, and said are we still on?" he laughed while recalling his journey to Esquire. "The thing is, I could have borrowed money from my parents out there, but I was like, no! I'd rather fail on my own terms! In complete shame!"

He joined the Marines

Despite his failed attempt at moving to California, Driver was determined to move out of his parents' house. After the events of 9/11, he decided to join the Marines.

"September 11 happened and all my friends were like 'Let's join the military!' and I was the only one who actually did," he told Interview. "September 11 was part of it, but I also needed to get out of that city. Not that I'm not grateful for having grown up in Indiana, but I needed to get out of there, and the Marine Corps was a nice, stable option. I had nothing going on, other than selling vacuum cleaners, so I made the decision in January and by February I was gone."

Driver embraced military life, and it became the ideal outlet for his intensity and passion. Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending how you look at — a freak accident robbed Driver of a chance to go to war, but not without a fight.

A mountain bike injury kept him from going to war

While enlisted, Driver decided to try mountain biking for the first time and was excited after scoring a sweet deal on a bike at Target, according to Rolling Stone. But things went awry when Driver broke his sternum on the trail and later found out the injury would prevent him from being deployed to the Middle East. But he wasn't going to take the news lying down. (He also got a full refund on the bike. Take that, Target!)

"I tried to prove that I was OK," he told Esquire. "I would put my gas mask and pack on and go for runs. I would take all these painkillers and lift weights. But it didn't work. So, yeah, there's a lot of guilt. It was hard."

After being medically discharged, Driver decided to give Juilliard a second shot. Thanks to his newfound confidence from being a Marine, he passed the audition process, but the transition wasn't easy. "Suddenly, I'm a cushy civilian again, at acting school, going to Starbucks and everyone's getting f*cking facials," he said. "And you're like, 'Where do I fit in here?' That feeling just continued!"

Driver funneled his trademark intensity into acting, which could sometimes be a little frightening for his classmates.

He used to make his classmates cry at Juilliard

"When you get out of the Marine Corps, you feel like you can do anything," Driver told WWD. "That was part of why I went to re-audition for Juilliard. I thought, Worse comes to worst, I know how to live. I'll live in Central Park or something. I'll survive. You feel like all civilian problems are meaningless and small, which is a complete illusion, but you have this confidence. You've been torn down so much — physically, emotionally, verbally — you feel like you're indestructible."

But despite Driver's readiness to live on the streets if his second attempt at acting didn't pan out, he threw himself into the work. However, the one thing the Marines didn't prepare him for was dealing with acting students who weren't accustomed to Driver's high-strung attitude.

"I made people in my school cry because it was just the way I was used to talking to people," he says. "I felt like I wanted to do it! Really hard! Whatever it was! And I needed to calm down a little bit."

He lived in a closet for a while

While Driver's military training didn't leave him equipped to interact with his fellow actors at first, his ability to survive in any condition definitely came in handy as he found himself living out of a closet, Harry Potter-style.

"I moved here the summer before I started to work and get acclimated to the city," he told Interview. "and my stepmom had an uncle here who lived randomly in Hoboken and lived on the top floor of his house, so I stayed in his closet. I had two bags full of clothing and I lived in his closet until I got an apartment in the city."

But Driver's closet days didn't last long, and soon, he found himself earning rave reviews in the New York theater scene. Except it wasn't all glamorous.

He made out with four people a day

"At one point, I was making out with four people a day," Driver told Broadway.com. "Cristin [Milioti] and Margarita [Levieva], because I was rehearsing Retributionists during the day, Seth [Numrich] in Slipping at night, and then my girlfriend. There was a lot of mouthwash and toothpaste before I could go home."

Wow, maybe Driver should've bought stock in Listerine.

As for how the actor kept himself busy, Driver had an unusual method for approaching auditions, and it landed him his breakout role on a little show called Girls.

He developed an interesting audition technique

"I trained myself, whenever I walk into auditions, to hate everyone in the room," Driver told WWD. "That way, if it doesn't work out, I can be like, 'I f*cking didn't like those people anyway!'"

Driver's intense audition method worked so well that Girls creator Lena Dunham and executive producer Jenni Konner knew Driver was their man right out of the gate.

"Starstruck," Konner said. "It was the first day of casting, and he was the first for 'Adam.' He walked in, and we couldn't believe it. He started to do the performance, and it's really not far off from what he did the first season. From that moment on, there was no other choice."

Driver nailed the audition and the role so well, that his character Adam Sackler became a staple of the show even though he was only supposed to appear in the pilot. "Once you work with Adam Driver, you never want to stop," Konner said.

He brought theater to the troops

Despite finding success with Girls, Driver never forgot his Marine days, or how it taught him the discipline he needed to become a better actor. He also still wasn't comfortable with his cushy life as an actor, so he started the non-profit organization Arts in the Armed Forces, which brings live theater performances to troops around the world and puts an emphasis on the actors interacting with the audience after the show through a Q&A session and an "informal mingling period."

"It's like continuing your service," Driver told Esquire. "It justifies some of the bullshit that surrounds acting. I mean, I get sent free pants. What's that about? Is this my career? Fighting cancer, there's an honourable occupation. Being a teacher. But this f**king free pants bullsh*t. I'm such a pampered a**hole!"

And while Driver may joke about the experience, he can't help but be touched by the reactions he receives, according to The Guardian.

"Yes — it's to bring thought-provoking theatre-based troop entertainment to an audience that wouldn't normally be associated with theatre," he said. "And we get the reactions that we're going for. 'Most troop entertainment is so bad and this is so good.' 'I've never been to a play before.' 'I didn't know theatre was like that.' The responses are overwhelming. I get a tremendous amount from it."

He was intense while playing Kylo Ren

In 2014, Variety broke the news that Driver was cast as the mysterious villain in Star Wars: Episode VII. At the time, fans only knew that Driver's role would be in the same iconic vein as Darth Vader. Eventually, Driver's role would be revealed as Kylo Ren, and Episode VII earned the official title of The Force Awakens before taking over the box office in 2015.

Needless to say, this was a huge deal for Driver, whose acting work had so impressed director J.J. Abrams that he didn't even have to audition for the part, according to HowardStern.com. But according to some of Driver's cast mates, he may have tackled the role with just a tad too much of his trademark intensity.

"He's very moody and intense," Mark Hamill told Variety. "I remember saying to Adam, 'I don't know how you work, or your technique. But, at some point, you were my nephew. I probably bounced you on my knee. I probably babysat for you. There's that side, and now we're both estranged from the Skywalker family. All I'm suggesting is, if you'd like, maybe we could go to lunch, we could get together and hang out.'"

According to Hamill, Driver took a pass. But he was that way with the entire cast despite John Boyega's attempts to bring him to the light side.

"I give Adam hugs randomly, just for no reason," Boyega said. "He just stands there. He just waits for me to be done."

He almost puked at The Force Awakens premiere

While Driver may have been all business on the set of The Force Awakens, the actor later revealed in interviews that he was geeking out just like the rest of us. In fact, he even broke a personal rule about watching his own performances.

"I did see Star Wars," he told The Telegraph. "Because it seemed different to me. I mean, I didn't know what was happening, a lot of the time."

But it wasn't an easy decision, and Driver hadn't fully come to grips to taking his first step into a larger world.

"Still, for a month leading up to it, I was like, 'I don't know if I can watch this,'" he said. "Thankfully I'm masked through a lot of it, so I could kind of hide that way. But it took a long time. I remember being sick to my stomach and almost vomiting in the theater at the premiere, which was just… very disconcerting, really."